The Jewish Question: Suggested Readings with Commentary, Part One of Three: The Enlightenment and Jewish ‘Emancipation’

I was recently contacted by the social media group ‘Smash Cultural Marxism,’ who asked me for a list of recommended readings on the Jewish Question. Because this was the latest in a number of similar requests, I thought it best to make a public offering in this regard, since the finished product is likely to be more polished, more complete, and ultimately more useful than I could otherwise offer in an individual email. The following ‘prose bibliography’ takes it for granted that readers are very familiar with the work of Kevin MacDonald, as well as popular contemporary texts by David Duke and E. Michael Jones. Nevertheless, at the outset I’d like to state that the Culture of Critique series represents a unique and significant leap forward in our understanding of Jewish group behavior, and also in the way we write about and explore this phenomenon. I should stress also that I refer to the entire series, rather than just the extremely popular third book of MacDonald’s trilogy. Taken together, these works offer an unparalleled and truly comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of Jewish group behavior, and its impact on surrounding societies. I would urge readers to read Separation and Its Discontents in particular. This text, the second of the trilogy and my personal favorite, tends to be under-appreciated because of its blockbuster follow-up, but it really is essential reading for developing an understanding of reactions to Jewish behavior — and the context and methods of Jewish counter-reactions. As much as the following bibliography will be of use to many readers, there is currently no better starting point for this subject matter than that offered by Kevin MacDonald.

Of course, the sum of Kevin MacDonald’s work stands in the immediate foreground of a long, though often under-appreciated, historical tradition of intellectual attempts to understand Jewish interactions with European societies. This bibliography is an attempt to shed light on the context, content, and significance of some works that may not be immediately recognizable to the majority of readers. It is not intended to be exhaustive, and inevitably there will be readers who feel that this or that text should have been included. Again, the following bibliography is a creation peculiar to its author, and it bears the imprint of the author’s own tastes, preferences, and range of reading. Selection has also been necessary due to the constraints of space and the sheer volume of available literature. Non-Jews have been discussing Jews and Jewish behaviour for millennia – in letters, pamphlets, speeches, policy documents, art, and books. Recent years have seen the further development of podcasts, documentaries and, dare I say it, memes. I have chosen here to discuss only books and important pamphlets, and I have limited my selection to those produced during and after the Enlightenment period. Earlier texts have been omitted for a number of reasons, the most important being that they often contained more Christian theology than empirical analysis. Although many often also contained trenchant sociological observations, the vast majority of these texts were ultimately influenced by supernatural understandings which, in my own opinion, often obstructed meaningful solutions to very problematic interactions.

A good example in this regard is Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies (1543). Like many pre-Enlightenment Christian critics of Jews, Luther began as an ardent philo-Semite. This had less to do with real interactions with Jews than it had to do with a kind of religious opportunism. The authorities of a new religion or sect, or the religious who find themselves amidst a sea of disbelief, are liable to seek converts wherever they may be found. Luther’s early pro-Jewish writings and sermons were based on a desire to convert Jews to his Protestant faith, and a very naive belief that this conversion would be forthcoming. In Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) Luther wrote “We ought to treat the Jews in a brotherly manner in order that we might convert some of them. … We are but Gentiles , while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord.” The inevitable spurning of Luther’s proselytising resulted in an overly-emotional reaction in the form of On the Jews and Their Lies and a large number of bitter sermons, in which Luther overlaid socio-economic grievances that he had previously ignored. While there is much to critique in Luther’s work, perhaps his most egregious error was his interpretation of the status of Jews. Like many other Christian writings on the Jews, Luther appealed to the notion that Jews were a ‘Judas people’ cursed by God for their role as the ‘persecutors and enemies of Christ.’ Indeed, Luther wrote that Jews are “Judas’ kin, who see nothing but God’s anger in their misery. They remain in distress eternally; they descend into the abyss of hell.”

This Christian theological narrative of lowly, downtrodden, punished Jews would later be strategically adopted by Jews themselves as a badge of innocence and victimhood, but even in Luther’s lifetime it bore little relation to reality. While the notion of a punished Jewry may have comforted 16th century Christians in a theological sense, it remained a fact that, aside from periodic expulsions, Jews were becoming increasingly entrenched in European societies. If anything, Luther’s invective led to a false sense of security among Europeans — a misplaced conviction that such a ‘cursed’ people would never be permitted by God to acquire power, wealth and influence over Christ’s own people. For example, at roughly the same time Luther had been positing a people condemned to earthly subjection, Jews were busy establishing their Amsterdam community — soon to become one of the most influential centers of Jewish trade in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe the Jewish population was about to double. In the Ottoman Empire, their influence was at its peak. For all his bluster then, Luther’s challenge to the Jews was ineffective in his own lifetime, and even proved counter-productive by later centuries. Thus, and speaking more generally, while explicitly Christian critiques of Judaism are worthy of attention and study, there are some fundamental interpretive problems with theologically-influenced works like that of Luther, which in turn render them more problematic than later works of the post-Enlightenment era which placed greater emphasis on rationalism and empiricism.

One of the first significant works of rational critique against Judaism came in the form of an essay by Voltaire (1694–1778) titled simply ‘Jews.’ Like Luther, though in a different sense, Voltaire seeks to deal with the Jewish Question from the starting position of religion. In particular, Voltaire’s primary frames of reference for his critique of Jewish culture and behavior are rooted in his understanding of the nature and history of Judaism. In this work, which first appeared in the author’s Oeuvres Complètes in 1756 (vol. 7, ch. 1), Voltaire stated that “the Jewish nation is the most singular that the world has ever seen.” From a political point of view, Jews were described as “contemptible,” while the Hebrews of the Bible “have ever been vagrants or robbers, or slaves, or seditious.” The original hatred of the goyim is said to be rooted in the ancient extermination of the tribes of Canaan by the Hebrews, a genocidal event that spawned a vicious cycle of mutual resentment between Jews and the peoples of the world. Jews, according to Voltaire, are a people without philosophy, and that “was not famed for any art.” In terms of mathematics and astronomy, “the people of Peru and Mexico measured their year much better than the Jews.” Their sojourns in Babylon and Alexandria led to the development of skill in “no art save that of usury.” Voltaire’s critique was very original for its time, and it retains a powerful and aggressive aura even today. For that reason alone it should be considered required reading.

However, in my own opinion, a more broad and well-reasoned response to the Jewish Question from this period can be found in Johann David Michaelis’s Arguments Against Dohm (1782). The ‘Dohm’ in question was Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, a German scholar in constitutional law, statistics, and history who moved in the Enlightenment circles of Berlin and had forged a friendship with the diminutive hunch-backed Jewish intellectual Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786). With the decline of the power of individual monarchs and the rise of the centralized state, Mendelssohn was very active in popularizing the removal of ‘civil disabilities’ for Jews, and for the admission of Jews to full citizenship – useful acquisitions in a society slowly transitioning to bureaucratic and democratic government. Mendelssohn was also very keenly aware that there would be limits to the value of his own voice. In much the same way that Freud would employ the services of the non-Jew Carl Jung to carry his “message” to the Gentiles, historians agree that it was Mendelssohn who strategically pushed his associate Dohm into carrying the Jewish case to the Prussian public. In 1781 Dohm dutifully obliged, publishing Concerning the Amelioration of the Civil Status of the Jews, which did little more than parrot many of Mendelssohn’s arguments with the prefix “my fellow Germans.”

The effort provoked a strong response from Johann David Michaelis (1717–1791), a German Bible scholar and professor of Oriental languages at the University of Goettingen; his expertise in Hebrew and Semitic languages was almost without parallel in Europe during his lifetime. Michaelis’s response to Dohm was in many respects ahead of its time. Leaving aside theological arguments, Michaelis argued against the granting of civic equality to Jews by appealing to crime statistics, sociological observations and evaluations, and to political and economic considerations. He wrote that “We can see principally from reports of investigations of thieves that the Jews are more harmful than at least we Germans are. Almost half of those belonging to gangs of thieves, at least those whose existence is known to us, are Jews, while the Jews are scarcely 1/25th of the total population of Germany.” Michaelis also hinted at aspects of what we now understand as a group evolutionary strategy. To Michaelis, Judaism instilled a national pride designed to prevent Jews from “mingling with other peoples.” The Mosaic Laws would ensure that Jews “will never become fully integrated in the way that Catholics, Lutherans, Germans, Wends, and French live together in one state.” A Jew could “never be a full citizen with respect to love for and pride in his country, and he will never be fully reliable in an hour of danger.” The Jew’s “messianic expectation of a return to Palestine” would ensure that “the Jews will always see the state as a temporary home.” This doubtful loyalty to the state was further evidenced by the fact “Jews will not contribute soldiers to the state.”

A similar line of argument, that Jews comprised a state within a state, was promoted by the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) in his 1793 work On the French Revolution. One of Fichte’s chief observations was that Jews possessed a significantly higher degree of ethnocentrism than their host populations: “It is a people whose most humble member elevates his ancestors higher than we exalt our entire history.” Perhaps even more important was the existence of a separate code of ethics among the Jews, in which the group was solidified and positioned against non-Jews: “It separates itself from all others in its duties and rights, from here until eternity.” Fichte complained about “sugar-sweet words about toleration and human rights and civic rights,” which act only to facilitate the removal or downgrading of the rights of natives. Regarding the question of extending explicit forms of civic and political power to Jews, Fichte worried that the extraordinarily high level of ethnocentrism within the dispersed Jewish nation might make it a more powerful ‘state’ than any of its more formal and concentrated European counterparts. He asked: “Does this not recall to you the notion of a state within a state? Does the obvious idea not occur to you, that the Jews alone are citizens of a state which is more secure and powerful than any of yours?”

The Jewish push for political advancement in Western Europe provoked other insightful assessments. In France, while the Revolution was still ongoing, there was a robust and lengthy debate on whether Jews should be considered full citizens on a par with Frenchmen in the new state. There was even significant debate with the Assembly as to whether Jews were included within the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. On December 23, 1789 a debate was once more held in the Assembly on the subject. The proceedings witnessed statements from both pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish speakers, but the most notable speech of the day came from Anne-Lois Henry de la Fare, bishop of Nancy, Lorraine, and opponent of the Jewish case. His speech was reprinted as an influential pamphlet: l’Opinion de Monsieur l’Evêque de Nancy, député de Lorraine, sur l’ admissibilité des juifs à la plénitude de l’état civil et des droits des citoyens actifs (1790). As well as echoing some of the arguments made elsewhere by figures like Michaelis, de la Fare explained that Jews and Frenchman had opposing interests, often resulting in violence because of the Jewish tendency towards monopoly, nepotism, the communal accumulation and hoarding of wealth, and extremely high levels of ethnocentrism. In Alsace and Lorraine the Jews lived almost exclusively from the proceeds of trade and money-lending. According to de la Fare: “The people detest them; in Alsace the Jews are often the victims of popular uprisings. In Nancy, four months ago, people wanted to pillage their homes. I went to the site of the agitation and I asked what complaint they had to make. Some claimed that the Jews had cornered the wheat market; others, that the Jews banded together too much, that they bought the most beautiful houses and that soon they would own the whole city.”

The Assembly proved incapable of coming to a definite decision on the Jewish position in the new state, and the matter was left to fester, resulting in the de facto granting of full political equality to Jews. However, the matter would arise again in 1806. Count Louis Mathieu Molé (1781–1855), Napoleon’s informal advisor on Jewish affairs, resurrected the discussion as part of a personal effort to rescind Jewish ‘emancipation.’ Responses to the Jewish Question often reflect some aspect of the background of those responding. For example, Luther’s fiery rhetoric was a reflection of his preacher’s penchant for the bellicose sermon, while the academic Michaelis responded to the Jewish Question with statistics and finely tuned evidence-based argument. To Molé, a diplomat, the Jewish Question was merely a facet of politics, to be negotiated via conferences and the formulation of policy. He persuaded Napoleon to convene a ‘Grand Sanhedrin’ — a kind of ‘Elders of Zion’ meeting — where Jewish leaders from across France would be compelled to attend and answer questions about the nature of Judaism and Jewish culture as it related to interactions with Frenchmen. Each of these Jewish notables was issued with Molé’s Instructions to the Assembly of Jewish Notables (1806), a summons to attend the Sanhedrin and a list of questions they were expected to answer. The message to the Jews was abrupt: “Called together from the extremities of this vast empire, no one among you is ignorant of the object for which His Majesty has convened this assembly. You know it. The conduct of many among those of your persuasion has excited complaints, which have found their way to the throne: these complaints were founded on truth; and nevertheless, His Majesty has been satisfied with stopping the progress of the evil.” Molé put to the Jewish leaders a number of questions concerning, among other things, intermarriage, loyalty to the state, Jewish attitudes to the laws of the state, and the practice of usury. Molé stated “You will hear the questions submitted to you, your duty is to answer the whole truth on every one of them.”

But, of course, the answers were far from truthful, even if they were masterfully crafted works of Talmudic argumentation. After engaging in prolonged huddled deliberation, the Sanhedrin delivered its responses, coated in saccharine obsequiousness, via its president Abraham Furtado. They were a tangle of lies. On intermarriage the Sanhedrin responded, with a sudden fondness for literalism, that the Law of Moses “does not state that the Jews can only marry among themselves,” but merely excluded marriage with the seven Biblical Canaanite nations. On the question of how Jews saw Frenchmen, the rabbis responded: “In the eyes of Jews Frenchmen are their brethren, and are not strangers.” On usury, the rabbis claimed that their religion forbade the lending of money at interest “to our fellow-citizens of different persuasions, as well as to our fellow Jews.” A total fabrication. Miraculously, however, the response of the rabbis, and perhaps some deeper influence yet to be discovered, was sufficient to extinguish the efforts of Molé at this stage. Jewish influence in France under Napoleon was able to grow largely unchecked, and not until the Dreyfus Affair of the late nineteenth century would political discussion of the position of Jews in France again reach such a height.

The defeat of Napoleon did contribute to a renewed focus on the Jewish Question elsewhere in Europe. The Congress of Vienna (September 1814 to June 1815) convened European leaders to discuss the political structure of Europe following the defeat of Napoleon, but it also led to the formation of the German Confederation. The formation of the Confederation was important in relation to the Jewish Question because Prussia had, in 1812, ‘emancipated’ its Jews, allowing them to be “considered as natives,” thanks to the networking of wealthy and influential Jews close to Emperor Frederick William III. At the Congress of Vienna, it was suggested by Prussia that their 1812 decree concerning the Jews be applied to the remaining thirty-five states in the Confederation — prompting widespread discussion in the German lands about the desirability of such a prospect. The matter dragged on long after the conclusion of the Congress of Vienna, and in 1831 it provoked ‘The Paulus-Riesser Debate.’ Heinrich Paulus was the non-Jewish professor of Oriental languages and theology at the University of Heidelberg, and a staunch opponent of Jewish emancipation. Gabriel Riesser was a bitter Jewish journalist who had been banned from holding a university position in Hamburg, and thereafter devoted himself to overcoming barriers to Jewish advancement in the German lands.

The ‘debate’ between the two figures lasted around two years and took the form of published essays in which the position of the opponent would be presented and then argued against. These debates are required reading not only because they offer insight into a crucial period in the evolution of the Jewish Question as a political problem, but also in the sense that they provide a glimpse into the development of the now-familiar Jewish reliance upon abstract values in order to mask group self-interest. The opening salvo from Paulus was The Jewish National Distinctiveness, while the strongest statement of Riesser’s position can be found in Defense of the Civic Equality of the Jews against the Proposals of Herr Dr. H.C.G. Paulus. The arguments of Paulus against Jewish emancipation can be summarized as an objection on the grounds that Jews consider themselves to be a separate, ‘chosen’ and superior race with no sympathy for the ‘idea’ of the nation or its citizens. Since the state (a political entity) was a form of apparatus designed to advance the interests of the nation (a biological entity), permitting the entry of an alien people into the machinery of the state (admission to the franchise, the bureaucracy, and the levers of power) would ultimately prove detrimental to those the state was originally intended to serve. In an attempt to counter this quite powerful and resonant argument, Riesser employed a set of tactics developed and finely tuned decades earlier by Moses Mendelssohn and his associates: the appeal to universalism and a primitive kind of multiculturalism. Riesser denied that Jews were anything other than a religious grouping and asserted that they in no way constituted a nation. As a mere religious denomination, Jews deserved to be admitted into a kind of multicultural Germany along with other religious denominations like Protestants and Catholics. He argued that the new German state should be founded not on the principle of serving the biological nation, but on abstract values like ‘justice, liberty, and equality.’ In a tactical manoeuvre that will be familiar to all of us, Riesser felt that the only argument necessary to counter the position of Paulus was that Paulus was a religious bigot, opposed to the advancement of ‘human values, tolerance, and a love of mankind.”

Go to Part 2

51 replies

Comments are closed.